BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – Three major candidates for Louisiana governor sparred Thursday night in their first debate of the season. Early voting in the Oct. 12 primaries begins next week with a runoff election between the two top candidates set for Nov. 16.
Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards faced his two main Republican challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and millionaire businessman Eddie Rispone during the televised debate at the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge.
It was the first of four scheduled debates that will feature the three main contenders.
The three candidates, all of whom have made admiring comments about President Trump, have in common a conviction that tough abortion restrictions should still apply in instances of rape and incest, and strong convictions about the Second Amendment.
Edwards, a Catholic, called himself “not just pro-life but pro-birth” in his defense of harsh restrictions on abortion. He said being pro-birth means he is interested in bolstering the state’s foster care system.
Abraham, a medical doctor, said he has seen firsthand that life begins at conception, and Rispone, defending his stance that rape and incest cannot change things, said “his heart goes out to anyone who has that situation” but that does not change his stance.
The candidates also share a reverence for the Second Amendment, which includes unwillingness to enforce a law requiring universal background checks on gun sales.
Abraham called the Second Amendment “self-explanatory” in his defense of gun sales without background checks and said instead of enforcing new gun laws the nation needs to address why we live in such a violent society.
Rispone said it’s not the gun laws but mental disorders that cause gun violence.
Edwards said he is all for background checks at commercial gun-selling venues, and for checks to discover criminal backgrounds and mental instability, but that he wouldn’t be willing to enforce checks across the board.
The candidates differ over taxes, with Abraham and Rispone each commenting that taxes imposed on corporations by Gov. Edwards have run jobs and laborers out of Louisiana.
Rispone last week launched attack ads against Edwards and Abraham, drawing backlash from some Republicans.
In one ad, Rispone describes himself as the grandson of legal immigrants and says as soon as he is elected he will take away benefits from undocumented immigrants and will ban sanctuary cities — something he says Edwards has not done.
Louisiana actually does not have any so-called sanctuary cities, as New Orleans, which is often mentioned as one, regularly cooperates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Early voting begins Sept. 28.
Edwards hopes to win the open primary outright by getting more than 50% of the votes. Although polls show he is in the lead, they do not show him that far ahead.